School Leadership: Multimedia News and Opinions

Old Mutual: The far-reaching effects of developing school leadership

Old Mutual is committed to enabling the economic empowerment and  financial inclusion of people from under-resourced communities into the mainstream economy by investing in enterprise development, skills development and education. The Old Mutual Education Flagship Project (OMEFP), launched in 2013, set out to invest R350 million over seven years into under- resourced schools. 

The overarching goal of the OMEFP is to increase the number of bachelor passes of grade 12 learners who study maths and science, so that they are able to access university education, resulting in more professional skills in the economy. As the project reaches its culmination, the Old Mutual Foundation reflects on its evolution, achievements and the lessons that have emerged. 

The OMEFP is externally evaluated on an annual basis, to ensure that implementation activities respond to project objectives and are adapted, as needed, to best suit the specific contexts of each of the participating schools. The insight from these ongoing evaluations helped the Foundation to realise early on that its initial whole school development approach – geared towards strengthening the overall functionality of schools as whole organisational systems – ran the risk of being too broad. Acknowledging that more could be achieved with deeper focus on fewer initiatives, the OMEFP model evolved to focus on school leadership development for school management teams and governing bodies, capacity building and teacher development, and limited subject support for learners studying maths and science.

Partnering with expert implementers

The project is implemented in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and Free State, in partnership with expert education organisations: SEED Educational Trust, Columba Leadership, Nelson Mandela University, LEED, PILO, New Leaders Foundation, the University of the Free State’s School Partnership Programme, Syafunda and Siyawela. The Old Mutual Foundation has also collaborated with the Provincial Departments of Basic Education and has found early buy-in from government to be a key driver of project sustainability and success.

Service partners

OMPicture1OMPicture2This project exemplifies the value of strategic and multi-partner collaboration in order to better leverage available resources and avoid duplication of efforts, inefficiencies and community fatigue. Old Mutual recently commissioned a research project into the inter and intra-collaboration between the OMEFP and its service partners, with a view to achieving a holistic model for parties to collaboratively address various issues which will contribute to the success of a school, district, circuit or province, ultimately effecting better learner outcomes in South Africa. It is envisaged that the research will result in a framework which can be used in all future collaboration relationships and contribute towards informing the basis upon which diverse corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives can work together for the benefit of multiple stakeholders and beneficiaries in the South African education sector.

This initiative is an attempt to test the effectiveness of collaboration, to craft a more formalised collaboration framework, effectively to manage evaluation of the nature of the project as well as working with different providers with different offerings. The framework will not be limited for use only by Old Mutual and its service partners, but will be made available to other interested parties in the education sector who may see the need for collaboration.


By the end of 2017 the OMEFP had cumulatively reached


In 2017 the OMEFP actively supported 241 schools in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

Richard Varha High School: A community’s beacon of hope

Richard Varha High School was founded in 1991 in Dimbaza, near King William’s Town. The community is characterised by widespread unemployment, poverty and other social challenges. When the National School Nutrition Programme was introduced at the school in 2012, learner attendance increased significantly – suggesting that food security is a challenge for many households in the community. Despite challenging socio-economic circumstances, the school has maintained a matric pass rate above 75% since 2009 (the earliest year for which data is available). In consultation with the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education, the OMEFP selected to support the school, along with 17 others in the King William’s Town school district.

Various initiatives, focused on school leadership and teacher training, have been implemented at the school since 2013. The school has enjoyed the benefits of an unusually engaged and committed governing body that has received support from the OMEFP, through training workshops facilitated by SEED and Siyawela. This school leadership has impacted the quality of teachers that the school has managed to attract; the financial soundness and governance of the school; improved infrastructure; uniform upgrades; improved maths and science results, as well as more students opting to study these subjects; increases in university-qualifying matric results; and growing enrolment rates. Already a source of community pride, the school has become a beacon of hope in its community and is a reminder that school-level stakeholders (principals, teachers, non-teaching staff, parents and learners) are not mere recipients of interventions, but agents who can effect powerful change in their own environments.

A key lesson to emerge from working with Richard Varha High School is that, when there are various initiatives and projects competing for a school’s resources – notably teachers’ time – prioritisation will take place, even if not explicitly. It cannot be assumed that a school will embrace all initiatives introduced to it. Organisations that want to partner with schools must be committed to investing in the relationship and may need to negotiate the type of support that will be valuable, based on the school’s needs, rather than on what the organisation planned to offer.

Early interventions improve education outcomes

The OMEFP has found that matric study camps and other late-stage interventions may impact learner results, but a far more sustainable approach would be to intervene both earlier and later in the education cycle. High school interventions are not geared to address foundational education issues, such as literacy and numeracy. It is therefore important to invest in programmes aimed at improving primary school phases. Earlier interventions provide a strong foundation from which secondary programmes can take root.

Creating lasting change in education

Despite considerable government spend and CSI, the education sector continues to grapple with a plethora of challenges. To ensure that it is contributing to systemic change, rather than just impacting select cohorts of learners, the OMEFP intends to be replicable and scalable.

Learner-focused interventions need to be repeated each time a cohort moves onto the next phase of their education. However, interventions that aim to impact the schooling system create stronger foundations for educational development. The teacher-targeted intervention in the OMEFP model intends to create sustainable impact since teachers tend to remain within the schooling system for longer than learner cohorts and can continue to imbed the practices that they have learnt through the project into their schools.

In addition to carefully considering how to intervene, to ensure sustainable change, the Old Mutual Foundation strongly advises other companies and investors in education to forego the ‘quick wins’ in favour of more meaningful longer-term investment, and to be prepared to invest for a minimum of three to five years before any measurable impact may be observed.

The Old Mutual Foundation is now exploring whether, instead of working with schools only, it can leverage provincial education strategies to focus on leadership, in order to scale the project.

The roll out of the OMEFP will continue until the end of 2019. Following an external evaluation of the project in 2019, and guided by the company’s group CSI strategy, the Old Mutual Foundation will determine its future commitment to the project.

View the video: Lessons from the Old Mutual Education Flagship Project: Kanyisa Diamond




Kanyisa Diamond | Senior Project Manager

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